This resource booklet, Good Advice for Churches, Congregations and Faith Groups Ministering in Disaster-Affected Communities, has been distributed to every congregation in the Uniting Church in WA. It was a reprint of a booklet prepared some years ago for the Synod of NSW. The booklet provides excellent advice for congregations on preparation, intervention and post vention for a disaster context.
We know only too well that disasters impact communities in significant ways. All aspects of day-to-day life are disrupted.
All disaster events involve grief and loss. Individuals and communities can be traumatised. The recovery process is often protracted, messy and unpredictable. There are also different phases that individuals and communities might experience post disaster. We have all lived through the horror of the 2019/2020 bush fire season in Australia only to be impacted further by the COVID-19 Pandemic. We have learnt many lessons from this experience and we have also had reinforced the good advice that we already knew from previous disasters.
As a new Fire Season approaches in WA, congregations can take some action to ready themselves in the event of a disaster being declared.
The first thing to understand is that there are many groups who take care of people in the midst of a disaster. Government agencies, volunteer groups and non-government organisations all respond in a coordinated effort under the Government of Western Australia’s Department of Communities’ State Emergency Welfare Plan. The Uniting Church Synod of WA and the WA Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network are represented on the State Welfare Emergency Committee that comes under this coordinated Government Response.
This means that faith communities cannot do their own thing. They need to ensure their response is appropriate for the event and supportive of their agency’s responses. It is essential that they work under the umbrella of the State Emergency Welfare Plan.
What can churches do?
There are a number of things churches can do in preparation well before any disaster hits.
The first thing is to build a network of people who can be contacted. An up-to-date pastoral contact list is one of the most important things for any church to have in place. From experience, we know that it is essential that all those from the congregation who are likely to be impacted are contacted. People who have been inadvertently ignored during disaster situations have experienced unnecessary trauma.
Appoint one person from the congregation who is dedicated to coordinate any crisis response.
Ensure this person has the contact details of the right people in the UCA Synod of WA who are responsible for Disaster Relief and Community Recovery.
That same person needs to make contact with local emergency services, people and systems, especially in the local council/shire. Become familiar with what happens if a disaster is declared in your community. Find out whether there is a LEMAR (Local Emergency Management Committee) in your community. You will need longterm trusted partnerships with these agencies. Stake your claim in the recovery space. Do not be passive.
Support this person to undertake training in Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy to be better informed and to be a resource to the local community in the event of a disaster.
Make an inventory that includes buildings, storage space, kitchen, laundry, shower, toilet, car parking and other areas that can accommodate animals and plans to make prepared meals and toiletry packets for men and women as examples.
All this information can be incorporated in your congregations own Disaster Resilience Plan.
Recovery is a marathon and not a sprint.
Connections are the number one thing congregations can do to quarantine themselves from future shock. Faith communities play a pivotal role in supporting recovery and resilience. You know and understand your community. You know the stress points and vulnerabilities of your communities better than anyone else. You are also there for the long haul. You are the known and trusted faces and places.
To do this work, you need to sustain your service and your core business to meet increased demand. Look for opportunities to integrate your existing service delivery with the disaster recovery activities. Think and act collectively by avoiding working in silos and avoid adding to community confusion and fatigue.
For more information on developing a Disaster Recovery Plan for your congregation contact the Synod of WA Disaster Relief and Community Recovery Working Group (contact details below). Partner with them in developing your own plan if you are faced with a disaster in your community.
Phone: (08) 9260 9800